AS you head off the A12, you can drive to Beth Chatto’s award-winning garden in about ten minutes.

However, the roads are a little different now from when Beth first moved to her patch of challenging wasteland in Elmstead Market.

Sixty years ago, aged 37, Beth Chatto OBE was a housewife, mother and newly-trained teacher but she had a burning desire to do more.

She and husband Andrew, a fruit farmer and ecologist, moved and built their dream house on a patch of the type of land that few would ever have envisaged as anything other than derelict.

The story of the development of the land, of her life and of her relationship with plants is incredible.

Not only did Beth create one of the world’s greatest gardens, she became one of the most influential gardeners of our time.

She won ten consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, was presented to various members of the Royal Family and received an OBE and Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) for her contribution to horticulture.

She wrote eight best-selling gardening books, lectured around the world and, in her later years, set up a charity to excite and enthuse others about plant ecology and our natural world - the Beth Chatto Education Trust.

When she passed away in May 2018, at the age of 94, she was mourned by other great gardeners, commemorated for her incredible contribution to gardening, plants and ecology and she even trended on Twitter.


Not bad for a nonagenarian whose passion was plants. What Beth left behind was an incredible legacy.

It sounds obvious now but the idea that garden plants thrive best in situations similar to their original natural environment was a novel one.

Beth’s earliest books for gardeners say it all: The Damp Garden, The Dry Garden, The Shade Garden, The Gravel Garden.

She persuaded a generation to recognise that plants need to be grown in the conditions they like best.


Why force a plant to grow somewhere it wouldn’t naturally be found?

If you attempt to grow a moisture-loving plant in a dry border, you’re making hard work for yourself and you’re making life challenging for the plant.


This is demonstrated beautifully in the renowned Gravel Garden, which has never been irrigated.

Sixty years ago, it was infertile land.

Then, for 20 years, it was a car park, enabling people to visit the rest of Beth’s garden and her nursery full of unusual, sought-after plants.

In 1992, Beth began to create this new drought-resistant garden as an experiment.

Could she grow plants there that would thrive in their natural, dry environment, without being watered?

It would have been Beth’s 97th birthday on June 27 and her gardens and plants are still growing strongly.

She once said: “We all pass on.

“Our gardens change; many disintegrate and disappear. That is not important.

“What matters is the continuing cycle of sharing and learning about plants and perhaps a little bit of us remains with our plants.

“Maybe this is another precious thing about gardening.”

Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens, in Clacton Road, Elmstead Market, are now open to visitors and customers again, from Tuesday to Saturday. Advance booking is essential, via